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A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel. The only mid vowel with a dedicated symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet is the mid central vowel without specified rounding [ə].
There also are mid vowels that do not have dedicated symbols in the IPA:
- mid front unrounded vowel [e̞] or [ɛ̝] (commonly written [e], i.e. as if it were close-mid)
- mid front rounded vowel [ø̞] or [œ̝] (commonly written [ø], i.e. as if it were close-mid)
- mid near-front unrounded vowel [ë̞] or [ɛ̝̈]
- mid near-front rounded vowel [ø̞̈] or [œ̝̈]
- mid central unrounded vowel [ɘ̞] or [ɜ̝] (most often written [ə])
- mid central rounded vowel [ɵ̞] or [ɞ̝] (most often written [ɵ], i.e. as if it were close-mid)
- mid near-back unrounded vowel [ɤ̞̈] or [ʌ̝̈]
- mid near-back rounded vowel [ö̞] or [ɔ̝̈]
- mid back unrounded vowel [ɤ̞] or [ʌ̝] (commonly written [ɤ], i.e. as if it were close-mid)
- mid back rounded vowel [o̞] or [ɔ̝] (commonly written [o], i.e. as if it were close-mid)
The IPA divides the vowel space into thirds, with the close-mid vowels such as [e] or [o] and the open-mid vowels such as [ɛ] or [ɔ] equidistant in formant space between open [a] and close [i] or [u]. Thus a true mid front vowel could be transcribed as either a lowered [e̞] or a raised [ɛ̝].
Few languages contrast all three heights of mid vowel, because it is rare for a language to distinguish more than four heights of true front or back vowels. One, the Amstetten dialect of Austro-Bavarian, contrasts four heights of front unrounded, front rounded, and back vowels in addition to having an open central vowel. These have been transcribed with the available IPA symbols /i e ɛ æ/, /y ø œ ɶ/, /u o ɔ ɑ/, and /a/.
However, the vowels transcribed /æ ɶ ɑ/ are one-third the distance between open /a/ and close /i y u/, precisely the IPA definition of open-mid vowels [ɛ œ ɔ]. Thus Amstetten Bavarian may be an example of a language that contrasts mid vowels with both open-mid and close-mid vowels.
The Kensiu language spoken in Malaysia and Thailand is highly unusual in that it contrasts true-mid vowels with close-mid and open-mid vowels without differences in other parameters such as backness or roundedness.